“I really can’t stay – Baby it’s cold outside
I’ve got to go away – Baby it’s cold outside
This evening has been – Been hoping that you’d drop in
So very nice – I’ll hold your hands, they’re just like ice”
Being stuck in a polar vortex really stinks. This is especially true for children and their parents suffering from cold- and snow-induced cabin fever. With kids heading back to school after a hopefully happy and warm Christmas vacation, that “fever” has broken, even if the temperature outside hasn’t budged much. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents just how dangerous extreme weather events like cold snaps can be:
Children exposed to extreme cold for too long and without warm, dry, breathable clothing can get frostbite or even life-threatening hypothermia.
Children are more at risk from the cold than adults. Because their bodies are smaller, they lose heat more quickly. Especially if they’re having fun, they may be less likely to come inside when they’re getting too cold.
That last point explains why children are more vulnerable to frostbite (when the skin literally freezes, causing serious tissue damage, especially to fingers, toes, ears, and nose) and hypothermia (a drop in body temperature below normal) when outside temperatures plummet. Adding the effect of wind to low temperatures raises the risk. The chart below from the National Weather Service takes the wind chill into account when considering how long it takes for frostbite to set in. If the temperature and wind speed are known, the wind chill can be calculated.
The AAP offers advice on steps parents can take to protect children from frostbite and hypothermia:
Check the Wind Chill. In general, playing outside in temperatures or wind chills below -15° Fahrenheit should be avoided. At these temperatures, exposed skin begins to freeze within minutes.
What to Wear. Several thin layers will help keep kids warm and dry. Insulated boots, mittens or gloves, and a hat are essential. Make sure children change out of any wet clothes right away.
Take Breaks. Set reasonable limits on the amount of time spent playing outside to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Make sure kids have a place to go for regular indoor breaks to warm up.